Baby Addiction: Do some people feel like they NEED to keep having babies?

By Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

It’s been hard lately not to follow the story of Nadya Suleman, the single mother who recently gave birth to octuplets (to add to her the six children).  Her story became a major media story and initiated a national discussion about certain parenting issues, especially as they relate to family size.

One term that has repeatedly come up as part of this conversation is “baby addiction.”  Basically, it refers to people who feel that they have to keep having babies, even though they already have numerous children—often more than they can handle.

Now, I’m a baby lover myself.  Holding my newborns tops my list of favorite things I’ve ever done.  You may feel the same way.  But that’s not what we’re talking about here.  We’re also not talking about having a big family for cultural or religious reasons, or deciding to give birth to or adopt several kids because you love children and you’re able to provide them with a good home.  We’re not even talking about people who spend a lot of time thinking about having lots of children.

A baby addiction leads a person to actually have more children even when it’s a bad decision—for themselves, for the baby, or for the entire family.  It’s when someone decides to have another baby to meet their own needs, at the expense of the needs of their children.  Specifically, this means that the parents don’t have the emotional, financial, or physical resources to meet the needs of their children, but keep having babies anyway. 

If you’re thinking about yourself and your desire to have more kids, and wondering if you’re a baby addict, just consider your motivations.  Does your main reason have to do with the fact that you (and maybe a partner) are able to provide a loving, stable home, even to a large family?  If so, then that might be a decision you want to pursue. 

But there are other motivations that are less healthy and that raise major red flags when they appear.  Look at the following dysfunctional reasons some people give for having another child.  If you find yourself seriously thinking along these lines, then I strongly advise you to be honest with yourself about what’s best for you and your family.

Another baby will help keep my marriage together.

If your marriage is struggling right now, the last thing you want to do is to add hormone roller-coasters, sleeplessness, and stress into the mix.  And these are inevitable bonuses that come with a baby.  You and your partner will do yourselves and your family much more good by dealing with the issues at hand and improving your relational skills like communication, conflict resolution, etc.

I’m depressed, and having another baby will help me be happy again.

This kind of thinking is dangerous, since it ignores the fact that something is making you fundamentally unhappy.  Yes, a baby brings with it all kinds of joy, but eventually you’ll have to deal with depression again.  More importantly, all children deserve to have parents who are as psychologically healthy as possible.

I feel like something’s missing inside me when I don’t have a baby in my arms.

I really understand this feeling, and even identify with it to an extent.  Older children don’t gaze at us as intently or need us in the same ways that babies do.  Each time one of my sons left the baby stage and moved towards toddler-hood, I felt some genuine sadness that the baby phase was over.  But as parents, when our kids enter each new stage, our response shouldn’t be to try to replace them or our old feelings.  What we need to do is to be fully present with them and savor the joys that come with each new stage. 

If you’re feeling like something is missing and that your needs are best met by a new baby, or if you’re dealing with depression or your marriage is falling apart, then I strongly encourage you to speak with a professional who can help you get at the heart of what’s going on. 

Before I close, let me say that there are many big families that are loving and healthy.  Likewise, there are lots of small families that are drowning in dysfunction.  So the point here isn’t really about the size of the family.  The real question, again, comes down to what’s healthiest for the whole family.  So before you decide to add one more little one to your family, make sure you’re acting according to what’s best for that child, yourself, and the rest of your family.

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